The wage bill for council staff suspended from their duties rocketed to nearly half a million pounds in Bradford last year.

Forty-two officers at Bradford Council were suspended from work in 2017 after being accused of wrongdoing, the highest number in five years.

A total of 5,707 working days were lost as a result, suggesting that the average length of suspensions has now grown to more than six months.

And the cost of paying people to stay at home as investigations take place was nearly triple that of the previous year, figures released by the authority show.

But one councillor has warned that the true bill may be far higher, once the cost of employing other people to carry out their work is factored in.

Councillor Rachel Sunderland (Lib Dem, Bolton and Undercliffe), who had asked for the figures, said it looked like the authority’s disciplinary process “isn’t working”.

Speaking to the Telegraph & Argus, she said she now wanted to know why investigations into wrongdoing were taking so long.

She said: “Over five years it is just short of £1m of essentially lost wages, because all the time these people are suspended they are not doing the job they are paid to do for Bradford.”

Cllr Sunderland said the authority had only recently approved another host of budget cuts, including a decision to reduce the Council Tax discounts offered to severely disabled people, carers and households in poverty.

But she said suspensions were a “huge cost to the council” which needed to be addressed.

Over the past five years, there have been 133 suspensions at Bradford Council, at a cost of £971,480 in wages and more than 39 years of lost working days, the figures show.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: A chart showing the wages paid to staff on suspensionA chart showing the wages paid to staff on suspension

In 2017, a total of £467,259 was paid to staff suspended from their duties. This compares to £108,636 paid to suspended staff in 2013.

The number of suspensions has also more than doubled over the five-year period, from 20 in 2013 to 42 in 2017.

A “concerned” trade union has also called on the authority to speed up its disciplinary process.

Ashley Harper, regional organiser for Unison, said: “It is important that whenever someone is suspended from work this is kept under review and the period is as short as possible in the circumstances.

“Whilst Unison accepts that some cases are more complex than others, we are concerned to see a sudden rise in the average length of suspensions at Bradford Council in 2017.

“We have already raised this issue with the Council as we do not want last year to become the new norm for the amount of time it takes to complete investigations.

“Along with the monetary considerations, there is also the hidden cost of the stress and anxiety faced by the suspended employee who may well be completely innocent of the allegations made against them.”

But Bradford Council has insisted that the length and cost of suspensions depended on the circumstances in each individual case.

Michelle Moverley, its interim director of human resources, said: “We strive to ensure that concerns about an employee’s conduct are investigated in a thorough, timely and fair manner and whilst there was an increase in the number of suspensions in 2017, this is still a relatively small number for an organisation of our size.

“Bradford Council currently employs just over 8,300 staff, not including schools staff, which equates to just under 6,500 full-time equivalent employees.

“The length and costs of suspension are affected by a number of factors including the nature of the concern, the complexity of the issues being investigated, the number of individuals involved and the salary of those suspended.”